Freddie King – Complete King Federal Singles (review)

Freddie King – The Complete King & Federal Singles (Real Gone Music) review

You say you want to learn to play guitar?  Here’s where you need to start

Freddie King was arguably the first electric guitar gunslinger, wielding his instrument as a fine marksman – with stinging accuracy.  His recordings played a huge role in shaping modern rock electric guitar – Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and Peter Green all have cited King as a major influence.  Real Gone Music has just issued The Complete King & Federal Singles, marking the first time the “A” and “B” sides have been coupled together in a single, two-disc anthology.

If he only recorded the stellar instrumental “Hideaway,” we’d probably still be talking about him.  That combination of driving bass, shuffling beat, and King’s knife-sharp guitar licks became an instant blues classic. Instrumentals were his forte – 16 of the set’s 54 tracks have no vocals.  In fact, you can make a killer driving disc by programming just the instrumentals: disc 1 – tracks 3, 7, 10, 14, 16, 17, 21, 23, and 26.  And on disc 2 – tracks 2, 8, 11, 12, 15, 17 and 19.  Any fan of the electric guitar should get to know these songs.  And, amazingly each one is distinct.

Yet, King was more than just a killer guitar player – he possessed a commanding voice, capable of emitting a spine-chilling wail at will.  His rendition of “I’m Tore Down” is the definitive version – a staple of any good blues band’s repertoire.  He also cut the impassioned “Have You Ever Loved a Woman,” which Clapton famously redid with Derek & the Dominoes.  There are so many classics, it’s hard to count them all – the slinky bending of “San-Ho-Zay” being one of the many highlights.  Another interesting track is “If You Believe (In What You Do),” where he sings off mic, giving his guitar more of the focus.

As time went by, his record label tried to cross King over to the pop market, teaming him with Lula Reed (ala Brook Benton & Dinah Washington) for a series of duets.  Sometimes they hit the mark, as in the sassy “You Can’t Hide.”  But, more often, they’re just fluff, as in the ridiculous “Do the President Twist.”  There’s several songs where he sounds like he didn’t even bother to bring his guitar to the studio, as in “One Hundred Years,” and “(I’d Love to) Make Love to You” – these are more in a straight, ballad style and aren’t really suited to his delivery.  But, don’t worry, there’s still plenty of good material from this time period, as both “She Put the Whammy on Me” and “(The Welfare) Turns Its Back on You” prove.

After a two-year layoff, the guitarist returned to the label in 1966.  Surprisingly, these are some of the finest tracks on the whole collection.  Backed by Lonnie Mack, these songs have a warmer, deeper blues’ feel.  Especially good is the baudy “Use What You’ve Got.”

Anyone interested in the electric guitar, either as a fan, or as a student of the instrument, should include Freddie King’s music.  The Complete King & Federal Singles captures this legend at his absolute peak.  –Tony Peters